After eight years, Nairo Quintana may be changing teams at the end of the season, but one thing remains seemingly unalterable as he faces what is likely his last Vuelta a España with Movistar: his caution at stating his objectives.
Quintana told reporters during the countdown to the 2019 Vuelta that whilst he and Valverde will be "fighting" for the race, whether he actually goes for the GC victory "is something we'll find out as the race goes on."
"Valverde and I are here to fight for the race, and as always, we have a great magnificent team that will support us in everything we need," Quintana told reporters in his usual impassive tone of voice.
Asked about how the last-minute absence through injury of Giro d'italia winner and teammate Richard Carapaz – one of Movistar's key players for the Vuelta – was being handled by the rest of the team, Quintana said he had limited knowledge of what had happened.
"I don't really know much about that, nor was I aware the decision had already been taken he would not race," Quintana said. "All I know is that he was going to take part and now he's not."
How Carapaz's absence will affect Movistar's already much-scrutinised team hierarchy remains to be seen.
Last year there were constant questions at the Vuelta as to whether Quintana or Valverde was the 'real' leader in Movistar, and at the Tour in July the team's hard-to-read tactics for its trident of leaders – Quintana, Valverde and Mikel Landa – were widely questioned.
Carapaz's crash conundrum
Carapaz, Movistar's one Grand Tour winner in the last two and a half seasons, crashed and suffered the injuries that have kept him out of the Vuelta, during Sunday's Etten-Leur criterium in the Netherlands, apparently without the permission of the team.
That is said to have done little to improve an already poor relationship between the rider, rumoured to be heading for Team Ineos in 2020, and his current team.
"I don't care where he's going, he's not been faithful," one Movistar directeur sportif reportedly told Radio Marca on Thursday.
"With Carapaz we'd have been stronger, now we'll have to reinvent our strategy," Valverde added. "We have to have clarity [of objectives]."
However, in the same interview, Valverde made it clear his own goals are not overly certain: "stage wins, although I'm in good shape and don't rule myself out of the overall."
The Vuelta a España remains Valverde's only Grand Tour overall win, way back in 2009.
Whilst Carapaz's departure to Team Ineos seems likely, Quintana's own uncertain future is still not set, despite strong links to Arkéa-Samsic.
The Colombian said "I can't confirm anything yet. But I hope to make it public in the next few days. It will also depend on how the race plays out."
As for whether his possible imminent exit from Movistar will affect his performance in the Vuelta, Quintana was typically cryptic, effectively – and impressively – managing to give four different possible answers to the same question, all in the space of a few seconds.
"Partly yes, partly no, but obviously it will influence a bit," Quintana said. "Even so I will be as professional as possible, always trying to do the best possible."
Quintana pointed at Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) as the top favourite for the Vuelta, and the Pau time trial as the point where the Slovenian will strike his hardest blow in the GC battle.
As for his own chances of repeating his 2016 Vuelta win and in the process producing a South American Grand slam in 2019's Grand Tours - Quintana is keeping that particular card firmly face down on the table.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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